Thursday January 26, 2012
As stated in the previous Eating the Obvious entry on Primanti Bros. in Pittsburgh, we at LocalEats delight in finding restaurants off the beaten path and hidden gems frequented by locals-in-the-know. Sometimes, though, the best way to orient yourself in a new city is to visit the most iconic restaurant or try the most obvious indigenous foodstuff. With Eating the Obvious I'm exploring well-trafficked restaurants that are popular for a reason and haven't let quality suffer by coasting on their reputation. Today's completely obvious choice: Mother's in New Orleans.
Pretty much everything is allowed in the Crescent City: gambling, open containers, frontal nudity, Alabama fans, hurling cabbages into crowds, and plenty of other acts pertaining to public intoxication or done in the name of acquiring MORE BEADS. One thing that is not tolerated however, is bad food. Any restaurant worth its salt simply can't survive in a town with such a superior food culture. So while there are plenty of restaurants that do indeed thrive on reputation and draw huge crowds of tourists, there aren't many that have slid into mediocrity or beyond. One restaurant in particular that still has an intimidating line extending well beyond the door is Mother's, "home of the world's best baked ham."
How did I become yet another tourist in this line? On a recent trip to NOLA revolving around a major sporting event hosted at the Superdome, I found myself in a hotel downtown with a group of about 10 family members and no car. Left to my own devices, I'd avoid the ballgame crowd and head uptown for a barbecue shrimp po' boy at Pascal's Manale or make my way to Jacques-Imo's. But with no transportation and a large group in tow, I became resigned to the fact that most of dining on this particular trip was going to happen downtown. We were a large group of tourists, so we might as well not pretend otherwise. A mere block or so from the hotel we spotted the line from Mother's and, after much deliberation (hooray, group dynamics!), we decided to at least get in line and see if it moved. And nary a better decision was made on the trip.
After only about a 20 minute wait, it was our turn to step up to the cafeteria-style counter and place our order. It's slightly chaotic, so it's good to have most of your order figured out well in advance, lest you get menu anxiety and just start pointing at things. I couldn't resist trying what Mother's is best known for: the Famous Ferdi Special po' boy. That would be Mother's signature baked ham and roast beef topped with debris and gravy. For the uninitiated, debris refers to the scraps of roast beef that fall into the gravy while it's baking in the oven. And it is divine. Two soft but crusty pieces of French bread complete this behemoth of a sandwich. The group agreed that the food and experience were well worth the wait. So Mother's qualifies as yet another renowned restaurant that is popular for good reason and able to maintain quality despite the volume. I somehow managed to finish the decadent po'boy and chase it with a few bites of pecan pie. In danger of slipping into a day-killing food coma, I had to seek out the most delicious revitalizing drink known to man: the frozen Irish Coffee at Molly's on the Market. But that's an entirely different gustatory undertaking altogether.
The Famous Ferdi Special
Ignatius J. Reilly: another victim of the New Orleans diet